June 14, 2021

As most of us sit in relative comfort, you just knew John Oliver was going to ruin it for us, right? That we wouldn't be allowed to sit in air-conditioned homes without also learning that prison inmates were dying because apparently no one wants to spend the money to offer them relief from the deadly heat? Via the A.V. Club:

Specifically, Oliver’s bait-and-switch focused on the fact that some of the hottest places in the country house untold thousands of human beings in sweltering conditions where the heat index has been measured at 150 degrees, and where an increasingly aging and chronically ill population is acutely susceptible to everything from heatstroke, to heat-exacerbated heart attack, to a documented summertime rise in self-harm and suicide.

As Oliver notes in the closing of his typically furious and funny exposé on prison heat (and not the 1993 film of the same name, whose IMDb synopsis promises that “Four American babes on vacation in the Middle East run into trouble”), the solution is refreshingly simple. “We shouldn’t be cooking prisoners to death—the end,” states Oliver, noting that simply air conditioning America’s hottest prisons and jails will alleviate that particular social ill quite neatly. “I know this show has trained you to anticipate nuance,” admits Oliver, “but this one is really pretty straightforward.” So, easy fix, right?

Well, no, of course not. As Oliver notes, the intentionally cruel and racially biased nature of mass incarceration in this country aside (and that’s a big “aside”), the people in charge of prisoners’ safety aren’t so much interested in prisoner safety when it comes to, among other things, preventing them from literally cooking to death. Take Texas, which has spent over $7 million on a lawsuit to stop one of its prisons from installing AC, even though actually going ahead and putting in air conditioning would cost $4 million. Plucking some Texas officials out for this week’s representative villains, Oliver played a clip of Texas State Senator John Whitmire explaining, concerning the simple solution of AC for the incarcerated, “One, we don’t want to. Number two, we couldn’t afford it if we wanted to.” As Oliver points out, one—everything after “We don’t want to” is bullshit. Especially since—number two—Oliver’s already shown how “we couldn’t afford it” is utter and complete bullshit.

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